First-time directors spar with same script

By David Wiegand / San Francisco Chronicle

Published Sep 3, 2014 at 12:02AM

San Francisco — I love my job. I could talk about it all day, but if I did, I’d probably have even fewer friends than I do now. It isn’t a glamorous job, but there are people who enjoy the end product, the words and images we offer on paper or online to inform, motivate, engage and amuse. How those words and images get there is what they call watching sausage get made — something you probably don’t want to see if you like the sausage.

Fact of the matter is, whether you’re building cars, designing fashion, publishing newspapers or making movies, just because people take an interest in the end product doesn’t mean they’d take an interest in the process, unless they are in a similar line of work.

That’s the problem with Starz’s first original unscripted series, “The Chair,” which combines the often unexciting process of independent movie making with a TV competition show. The 10-episode will premiere Saturday.

The show was created by Chris Moore, co-producer of “Good Will Hunting,” who also teamed up with that film’s Oscar-winning screenwriters, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, to create “Project Greenlight” (making its way back to an HBO revival). Moore and various other production partners, including actor Zachary Quinto and his production company, chose two talented people who’d never directed a film to make separate 85-minute feature films based on the same source material. The winning filmmaker will get $250,000, but both resulting films will get theatrical releases and air on Starz.

Shane Dawson has more than 10 million subscribers to his YouTube channels, where he’s posted hundreds of short and hilarious videos, many in the worst possible taste. He makes a living off his channels but knows it’s time for him to move from the kids’ table to sit with the grown-ups.

Anna Martemucci studied screenwriting at New York University and wrote an indie feature, directed by her husband, called “Breakup at a Wedding.” Now she wants to sit in “The Chair” herself — the director’s chair.

Dawson and Martemucci are handed a script by Dan Schoffer titled (horribly) “How Soon Is Now” about two Pittsburgh high school graduates who go off to college and return home for Thanksgiving and the stuff that happens.

In other words, Dawson and Martemucci are handed one of the most tired cliches in Hollywood and told to make a movie about it. The fact that everyone thinks this is a novel idea may suggest why Hollywood is stuck in the tar pits and is just finishing its worst summer season in seven years.

The first two episodes of the show shuffle along at a comatose snail’s pace as the newbies are confined to coffee-fueled discussions about money, locations, more money, costumes, a DP (director of photography) quitting just before shooting is to start, funding coming in dribs and drabs and whether American Eagle female mannequins all have the same cup size.

Both directors are given final cut approval (virtually unheard of for first-time indie directors) and can do what they want to the script. Martemucci all but rewrites it, because writing is what she’s comfortable with. Each director cuts two characters out of the script, but they’re two different characters. Schoffer tries to maintain his cool, but he’s particularly distressed by Martemucci’s rewrite.

Bit by bit, we get a little sense of the directors’ visions. Whereas Martemucci sees the script as a source for a quirky little indie about college kids learning you can’t reclaim your high school glory on a holiday trip home, Dawson sees it all as fodder for his trademark over-the-top humor.

But strap yourself in for long, detailed meetings, mostly attended by people in knit caps, about stuff that either will make no sense to you or that you don’t care about.

I didn’t need to watch the two trailers to vote Team Shane over Team Bella ... I mean, Team Anna: Just the scenes of Dawson’s crew trying to come up with the right color, consistency and projectile speed of vomit, and testing how blood might spurt from an ear piercing gone wrong, were enough for me to look forward to seeing the finished product this fall.

That said, a lot can happen between concept and final cut in movie-making, and if you can stay awake through the endless meetings, “The Chair” could be — you should pardon the expression — worth sitting through.